The campaign finance trial against Rudy Giuliani’s Ukrainian-born associate, Lev Parnas, is set to start Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.
Parnas faces charges related to two alleged campaign finance schemes. In one alleged scheme, prosecutors say Parnas and another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman — who has pleaded guilty — conspired in 2018 to skirt campaign contribution limits and falsely report contributions to the Federal Election Commission by concealing the donations through a company prosecutors say was a front for political dealings.
Jurors will also hear evidence on charges connected to an alleged effort by Parnas, Fruman, and business associate Andrey Kukushkin to funnel $1 million from a Russian national into state and federal elections to benefit their future cannabis business venture.
The trial begins nearly two years to the day when Parnas and Fruman were arrested at a Washington-area airport as they were boarding a flight to Vienna. The arrest came amid the House Democrats’ investigation — and eventual impeachment trial — of then-President Donald Trump and launched two unknown Florida businessmen with shaky track records onto the global stage.
The criminal trial is not expected to take the jury into Parnas’ life crisscrossing Europe with Giuliani to compile what he claimed to be damaging information on then-presidential-candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, but the former President and his attorney won’t be absent from the case, either. Prosecutors said at a recent court hearing that they intend to show the jury photos that Parnas texted to Kukushkin of Parnas with Giuliani and Trump that he used to tout his connections and influence.
It won’t just be prosecutors who will accuse Parnas of fraud. Attorneys for Kukushkin said they will argue that Parnas duped Kukushkin and his Russian backer who, he says, were unaware of the scheme, setting the stage for some potentially tense moments. District Judge Paul Oetken denied a previous request for a separate trial and said he’d rule on contentious trial moments as they come.
Parnas and Kukushkin have denied any wrongdoing.
Attorneys spent time with Oetken in recent days discussing what the parties can and cannot address during the trial, debating how best to tamp down potentially irrelevant and distracting fanfare about Trump and Giuliani.
Federal prosecutors’ investigation into Giuliani’s dealings in the Ukraine remains active and an independent court-appointed “special master” is reviewing materials seized in a raid of Giuliani’s home and office in April.
Who will testify
Prosecutors are expected to kick off testimony with Joe Ahearn, a top official at America First Action, a pro-Trump Super PAC that received $325,000 in donations at issue in the alleged straw donor scheme.
Ahearn will likely speak to efforts by Parnas to make donations in time to get invites to events and access to Trump, Parnas’ lawyer, Joseph Bondy, said in court.
Lawyers involved in the case say other witnesses include Felix Vulis, a Russian businessman and former chief executive of Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. in connection with the cannabis business; former Rep. Pete Sessions’ former chief of staff; current and former FEC attorneys; two Nevada politicians, Adam Laxalt, Nevada’s then attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, and Wesley Duncan, a less prominent politician in the state; an attorney who helped Parnas register a cannabis business in the state; and a law firm associate who aided Parnas’ filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Two names that will be on emails and text exchanges but physically absent from the trial include Fruman, who pleaded guilty last month to one count related to the scheme to solicit a contribution from a foreign national. Fruman originally faced several charges in multiple federal indictments but struck a plea deal that did not require him to cooperate with prosecutors. He faces up to five years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
The other name is David Correia, another business associate indicted with the other men. He is currently serving a one-year sentence after pleading guilty to charges last October for defrauding investors in Fraud Guarantee, a company he ran with Parnas from 2012 to 2019. He is not cooperating and is expected to be released in January.
The Securities and Exchange Commission leveled a civil suit against Parnas and Correia in connection to the alleged Fraud Guarantee scheme, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in February. Correia settled the case with the SEC but counsel for Parnas continues to litigate the suit on his behalf.
Despite being known for touting his wealth and connections to Trump’s circle of high rollers, Parnas told the court this month that he’s out of cash to pay his lawyer. Oetken granted Parnas relief, ruling that the government will arrange or pay for his travel from his Florida home and his attorney will be reimbursed for lodging expenses at the government per diem rate.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
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